The sun tried valiantly to shine through the crowds as my mom, my fiance and I hefted our 30-pound packs onto our backs and started across the causeway between the upper and lower lakes. The trail into South Kananaskis Pass was broad and smooth, though my fiancé complained that it wasn’t flat – it rolled gently over the hills and rises in the land as it circled around the upper lake before snaking off into the valley.
We caught glimpses of the lake to our left, with snow-covered mountains and glaciers reflecting in the calm water. Rockslides slid down across the trail from the sheer rock walls on our right. Then the trail plunged into evergreen forest, where the only sound was the thumping of our boots on the hard dirt trail.
We sat beside an icy cold stream and watched the sunlight sparkling off the water droplets melting from the trees. A light skiff of snow sat on the ground, just enough to make everything wet. Then we marched on down the trail to our campground some 8 km from the trailhead. There we found everything still so wet from the snow that we couldn’t get a fire started. After sharing our pot of soup and doing dishes, we crawled into our sleeping bags and shivered ourselves to sleep.
I spent the night trying to get warm and comfortable, neither of which worked. I rolled over every hour or so, listened to my mom snoring in the tent beside me and my fiancé snoring in the bivy sack a few feet away from our tent, and drifted off to sleep again. In the morning, Mom went off to start breakfast while I woke my fiancé. She was soon back with the news that the stove wasn’t working.
The pump was gone on the stove, so it would not start. We went for more wood while discussing our options of cooking over the fire or hiking out that day. With some effort and a bit of luck, we managed to start a fire and boiled water for our oatmeal. Three other campers, university students from Calgary, joined us for breakfast and sympathized about the stove. After banking our fire for the evening, we got a late start on our dayhike to the pass.
We had the trail to ourselves for most of the day. It meandered upward through the evergreen forest and then into willow scrub before climbing up a steep, rocky headwall. The Canadian Rockies Trail Guide had described this section as “250 m of steep scree.” It was the reason we stopped at the lower campground, instead of pushing on to the next, and now we were glad not to have our packs. As we climbed, we could pause to look over our shoulders at the view appearing below us. Each step further up the trail gave us a better view of the valley below us and the mountains across from us. That view made every step of the climb worth the effort.
Like any good mountain, this one proved deceptive, and what we had thought was the “top” was not. We clambered over the next ridge and then the trail dropped down again towards Three Isle Lake – leaving us contemplating the fact that we’d have to go up that on the way back out. We ate lunch at the edge of the lake, enjoying the sunshine and admiring the scenery. Rings in the shale banks surrounding the lake showed where the water levels had been in the past – perhaps with the spring runoff from the glaciers on the mountains above. The water was so low now that the two isles in the middle of the lake were connected to the shore by a land bridge – the third isle was absent.
The trail from there on was covered with an inch of snow, and we followed a weasel’s bounding tracks for most of the way to the pass. In the pass, we stopped for a break and some snacks, and watched the path that meandered on down the other side, into further valleys and meadows. A huge cairn stood in the pass, marking the border between BC and Alberta, and signs proclaimed the boundaries of the parks on either side of the pass. We discussed future explorations into that unknown region, and then hiked back to camp.
We cooked supper over the open fire again that night, with my fiancé manipulating the temperature (“turn the fire down now please, the soup needs to simmer”). Once the simmering was done, we sat around a roaring fire, then did dishes and had dessert. Darkness fell and my mom went to bed, and my fiancé and I watched the full moon rise behind the mountain and the fire burn down to shimmering red coals.
We woke up the next morning to a thermometer reading -10*C. Mom and I left my fiancé in charge of the fire (it did better under his care than ours) while we packed up the tent and sleeping bags. After gulping down our hot oatmeal and some coffee, we packed up the rest of our gear and hit the trail to the car. In a couple hours we were heading back across the causeway, where my fiancé decided to prove that his pack wasn’t all that heavy. He put his pack on his front and took me piggy-back (with my pack still on) and marched over the causeway.
We finished off the weekend by showing up at my fiancé’s parents’ farm for Thanksgiving dinner, smelling of sweat and woodsmoke. Thus ends the 2006 hiking season – but for next year, we’ve discovered more trails to explore.
Sounds marvelous! It almost feels like I’m there with you when I read your writing. Mmmm… sweat and woodsmoke. I know the smell, and it usually signals good times. I’m glad you had such a memorable weekend (even if there were a few glitches!) DS